Returning us to high school days, you might recall the first day back at school after the long summer holidays. There was usually some kid who during the break experienced a sudden spurt of maturity and returned much bigger and more grown up than ever before. It’s a similar scenario for the third generation Subaru Forester that now only scantly resembles the boxy first model that’s become a bit of a cult favourite here in NZ. Proof that as Subaru strives to be a more mainstream global brand its products are being designed with a broader, more sensible appeal. The new 2010 Forester is also available with a diesel engine option and although Subaru is a late bloomer into diesel power it’s an impressive motor on paper. Car and SUV spent a week with the oil-burning Forester 2.0D ‘Euro Spec’ to measure its growth and mark its report card.
Let’s duck straight under the Forester’s scooped bonnet where the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel engine provides all-wheel motivation. With this new unit Subaru has continued its commitment to a horizontally opposed boxer configuration albeit in diesel form. Power output is rated at 108kW with a muscular 350Nm of torque available from just 1800rpm. It can lay claim to being the world’s first diesel boxer engine and gives the Forester an intriguing character. Off the mark it’s no rocket ship, but once the revs rise on the turbocharged engine there is generous mid-range torque on offer. Unlike some turbo diesels the Forester needs to be pushed and held higher in the rev range to extract its best performance. If you don’t, it can get bogged down, especially if it falls below turbo-range at around 1500rpm. This requires working the gears which makes for a more involving drive.
Does that mean I have to change these gears myself? It may seem archaic to some, but yes the diesel engine Forester comes exclusively mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. It’s an easy-use set up, with a light clutch and a notchy yet predictable gearstick throw. Subaru plans to offer a CVT auto transmission option in the future, but for now, it’s do-it-yourself.
Despite having Subaru’s signature AWD system the Forester powertrain allows for excellent fuel economy with an achievable 6.3l/100km on the combined cycle. Towing capacity is rated at 1400kg with a braked trailer (720kg unbraked) and there is a clever self-leveling function in the rear suspension to keep the vehicle riding true when hooked up to a trailer.
On road the Forester drives very well, it’s settled, balanced and effortless to control. The handling is direct and the vehicle stays flat during cornering which disguises its raised ride height. Push a little harder and physics dictate that there will be some body roll from the 1540kg crossover, but Subaru’s symmetrical AWD system delivers prodigious amounts of grip with understeer felt only with heavy provocation. Ride comfort is excellent with the suspension setup to make the most of the high centre of gravity and deny most road bumps and dips from entering the cabin. While the steering could be a touch sharper and more communicative, dynamically the Forester is a very good overall package.
The Forester can’t replace a rugged off-roader but by using a full-time four-wheel-drive set up it does have an advantage over many other crossover competitors. Most modern crossovers now use a fuel-saving part-time 4WD system that only transfers torque to the rear axle after there’s been a loss in traction. Although this is a rapid process, the Forester by comparison will power straight through these situations. With a 215mm ground clearance, robust under-body protection and large doses of torque the Forester will be untroubled by steep gravel driveways or jaunts on namesake forestry roads.
In terms of exterior styling the new Forester could be accused of losing the edge that helped make the first generation so popular. That said, it’s a purposeful looking machine that has clean lines and a generous dimensions. The pumped up wheel arches and wide bonnet scoop give it some sporty appeal and tough plastic panels around the bottom edges hint at off-road ability. Twin exhausts are a feature at the rear but could be better finished with chrome tips. It’s quite a reserved look with the only real bling coming from the broad silver grille and 16-inch 5-spoke alloys. The Euro Spec diesel model doesn’t pick up the colour coded door handles and mirrors or integrated roof rails used on the higher priced variants in the range. All up, it’s a smart looking wagon, the styling may not suit more radical tastes but it won’t offend anyone either.
Step inside the Forester and you’re greeted with a low-key but spacious interior. Dark plastics are broken up by contrasting silver trim on the nicely curved dashboard and a simple centre control stack houses all audio and climate controls. The wide front seats are finished in a soft cloth, are comfortable and heated for frosty mornings. With height adjustment on the driver’s seat and a reach and rake adjustable steering wheel it’s easy to get yourself set up. The instruments are large, clear and illuminate nicely in blue. The stereo functions fine but has a slightly dated look and audio controls aren’t repeated on the leather steering wheel. There’s also a lack of any larger main control screen with only limited vehicle information divided between two small digital displays. The interior plastics generally feel durable but some have a hard, untextured finish denying the cabin a true sense of high quality.
When it comes to practicality the Forester scores high with plenty of storage options, cup holders and 12V power jacks. There’s also generous space on offer with ample head and legroom for all passengers. Luggage capacity in the hatch is 450-litres that expands to a massive 1660-litres when the reclineable rear seat back is folded forward. Other handy features include cruise control, CD player with aux input and remote central locking.
Safety is taken care of by traction and stability control systems, ABS brakes with brake assist and a six airbag package. Thieves will be deterred by a vehicle immobiliser and Subaru’s use of the data dot anti-theft system.
In conclusion, it’s a comfortable pass mark for the Forester but it’s not all A-grades. The powertrain is unique and impressive, as long as the diesel engine is worked hard through the gears it’s a solid performer. Dynamically the Forester displays the same on-road competence as all Subarus and has good ability in lighter off-road scenarios as well. Marks are lost for the dated looking interior displays, hard dashboard plastics and slightly uninspired exterior design. But for family-hauling duties the Forester is tailor-made, it’s economical, comfortable on road and has expansive interior space. It’s also in a tempting price bracket and is backed by Subaru’s 3-year/unlimited km warranty so if you’re in the market it’s worth closer examination.
What we like:
- Torque and economical diesel engine
- Excellent dynamics and AWD system
- Perfect for lighter off-road duties
- Very safe vehicle
What we don’t like:
- Generic exterior styling
- Interior plastics and display screens
- No automatic transmission option
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
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Subaru Forester Diesel Euro Spec – Specifications
Dimensions & Weight
Overall length (mm) 4560
Overall width (mm) 1780
Overall height (mm) 1700
Wheel base (mm) 2615
Front track (mm) 1530
Rear track (mm) 1530
Min. ground clearance (mm) 215
Boot capacity (rear seat up/down) (litres) 450/1660
Unladen mass (kg) 1540
Engine and Performance
Type Horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder DOHC Boxer Diesel
Capacity (cc) 1998
Bore x stroke (mm) 86 x 86
Compression ratio 16.3 ± 0.3
Fuel tank capacity (litres) 64
Fuel System Common rail Diesel
Maximum output (kW/rpm) 108/3600
Maximum torque (Nm/rpm) 350/1800
CO2 emissions (UN/ECE Regulation 101) (gm/km) 167
Fuel consumption (UN/ECE Regulation 101) (1/100km) 6.3
Steering Electric assist
Suspension – Front MacPherson strut type, independent suspension
Suspension – Rear Double wishbone type, independent suspension
Brakes – Front Ventilated discs
Brakes – Rear Discs Tyres (steel belted radial, tubeless) 215/65 R16
Towing Minimum turning circle curb to curb (m) 10.5
With brakes (kg) 1400
Without brakes (kg) 720 Max.
Tow ball download (kg) 110